Independent Design Magazine

Zurich Architecture | From Classic to Contemporary

Zurich Architecture | From Classic to Contemporary

Zurich architecture Linesmag

This city is living proof of heritage combined with modern life. Throughout Zürich, you can trace the medieval urban outline and the defined modern one. It’s the largest city, located in the country’s northeast. The city is also Switzerland’s industrial, financial and cultural center, creating one of its most livable and cosmopolitan cities.

During this journey, we will take a trip through the city’s diversities and innovative modernism. This journey starts at its urban composition and takes us from its central station to the beautiful landscape and the unparalleled Zurich architecture around the city.

Zurich City

Zurich city center offers visitors a rich experience from culinary to architectural facades and international brands. Among its center runs the green spaces that extend along Lake Zürich, lines with its beautiful parks, up to “Zürichberg” Zurich Mountain.

Urban wise, Western Zürich is a transformed district; it used to be an industrial zone. Nowadays, Zürich west is a vivid area with modern theatres, architecture, nightlife, and galleries. International headquarters on the other hand fills the northern part of the city. Moreover, Zürich’s north and west parts house low and middle-income neighborhoods.

Suisse Headquarter Zurich Architecture
Photo Courtesy: Suisse Headquarter Zurich

Multiple efforts went into transforming Zürich into an international destination, for travelers as much as business. To do so, the city renovates its historic museums and theatres and creates memorable landmarks. It did not stop at that, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology established “Science City” as a think tank campus. This campus means to contribute to the city’s intellectual innovations.

Old City “Altstadt”

Starting at its Old City center, Zürich “Altstadt” combines its busy transport, commercial dynamics and historical architecture. Once you walk through Altstadt, you find yourself surrounded by three of the city’s most historic churches. One of which is Grossmünster Church established in the 700s, St. Peters Church since the 13th century and Fraumünster Church which are unique Zurich architecture gems.

At its northern end is Zürich main transport station “Zürich Hauptbahnhof”. Zürich HB is Switzerland’s largest railway station.

Grussmunster Kirche church zurich architecture
Grussmunster Kirche

Bahnhof Str. runs next to the station along with the old city’s urban fabric and 19th-century architecture. Altstadt offers a selection of the country’s renowned chocolate, watches and jewelry trademarks.

Bahnhofstrasse_Keano Manu
Bahnhofstrasse Keano Manu

Architecture Picks

Zurich Opera House Architecture

This Swiss Opera was originally an ancient theatre in 1834 on Lake Zürich. It burnt down in 1890, where Fellner and Helmer built a new Opera House as a replacement. This building welcomes 1,100 spectators in the smallest opera house among the world’s largest ones. And one of the best ones out there too.

Zurich Opera House
Zurich Opera House

Since it is built on the lake, the architects decided to construct it on oak Stilts, due to the underlying water. Its exterior portrays ornate classic facades. They decorated those facades with different busts, some of which are Mozart and Wagner busts. The architects designed Its auditorium interior based on the new-rococo style.

Zurich National Museum Architecture

Next to Zürich HB is the National Museum of Zürich, a building that houses the largest collection of the country’s cultural history. It is a cultural platform, side by side with its School of Art.

Gustav Gull designed this museum around 120 years ago by bringing together medieval and modern architecture. He designed it to unite the displayed collection and exhibits with architecture.

In 2016, the museum was re-opened after building its extension. Christ & Gantenbein designed this extension to compliment Gull’s work with contemporary solutions. This additional wing offers a modern library and an auditorium for public events. The wing also hosts large and flexible exhibition halls.

National Museum Zurich architecture
National Museum Zurich

The modern wing of this museum adjoins its old u-shaped building and overlooks Platzspitz Park. The old one is a stone composition and the new one is raw concrete. They form an urban outdoor within their combination. This urban space peaks out at Platzspitz Park through the new wing’s raised part.

Law Library

Law library in zurich architecture and interior design
Law library

In 1909, the University of Zürich founded its Law Library. This original building was an L-shaped one, with two lower wings that were added to it in 1930. Those wings addition created a courtyard inside this composition.

After 80 years of its establishment, Santiago Calatrava renovated the library’s old building in 2004. His approach maintained the exterior without any changes and worked on renovating its interior. Calatrava designed a curved atrium, made of wood. He covered this atrium with a glass dome. He also added a mechanical solar shade to control the incoming sunlight.

Law library in zurich architecture and interior design
Law library

Museum Haus Konstruktiv

Museum Haus Konstruktiv_Zürich_2018Peter Baracchi_Museum Haus Konstruktiv
Photo Courtesy: Museum Haus Konstruktiv (Peter Baracchi)

Hermann Herter remodeled an electricity substation between 1929 and 1932. This station shut down in 1998, and the building is currently a protected historical asset of the city. In 2001, the formerly known “House for Constructive and Concrete Art” moved from Zürich’s Seefeld to this substation in the city center.

Museum Haus Konstruktiv is its title nowadays. Architects Roger Diener of Basel and Meier + Steinauer transformed the building from a substation to a museum space.

The Entrance Foyer portrays the substation’s old crane. As visitors go into the museum a central staircase reaches its five floors and exhibition spaces. The museum’s steel attic hosts the art education atelier and a beautiful library.

New MFO – Park Zürich

Grün Stadt Zürich issued the establishment of a “Park House” that was done between 1998 and 2002. The New MFO Park in Zürich is the largest pergola in the world.

In the northern center of the Swiss capital, the park offers a fresh outdoor space for its surroundings. It offers a green space amidst of the vast collection of residential and office buildings. People find an outlet in this park, whether to read a book or have a business meeting.

Zurich Architecture_Linesmag_8
Photo Courtesy:

This vertical park is a double-wall structure, with flights of stairs serving its levels. Wired mesh envelopes this structure, and sprawling plants spread over it. It is a colorful space for everyone to enjoy.

Ballet Mecanique Apartment block

Zurich Architecture_Linesmag_7
Photo Courtesy: Yuri Palmin Manuel Herz Architects

In one of Zürich’s residential quarters, Manuel Herz Architects designed a dynamic apartment block in 2017. They designed five apartments in a single building, cube-shaped, and monochromatic at first sight.

Zurich Architecture_Linesmag_6
Photo Courtesy: Yuri Palmin Manuel Herz Architects

When this building’s modular shutters open up, it transforms into a colorful block. The firm added 20 shades of reds and blues to those shutters’ interior. It acts as sunshades and expands out into balconies. As monotone as the interiors is, the shutters’ colors reflect all those shades into the apartments through the sunlight.

Zurich Architecture_Linesmag_5
Photo Courtesy: Yuri Palmin Manuel Herz Architects

Pavillon Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier’s last work is located on Lake Zürich. He built this Museum and Exhibit in 1967. Designed of steel and glass only, Le Corbusier offers a colorful building on the lake.

Zurich Architecture_Linesmag_4
Photo Courtesy:

He designed it in a modular manner, following the human body’s proportions and the golden ratio as well.

Natural Outline

Going through Zürich is quite an interesting experience in itself while continuing to its outskirts unravels beautiful scenery. The Rhine falls and Lake Zurich is one of the city’s amazing destinations for a breath of fresh air.

Rhine Falls

Zurich Architecture_Linesmag_3
Photo Courtesy: Nada Abdrabou

The Rhine Falls is Europe’s biggest waterfall, and as waterfalls are, it is a great refreshment and a beautiful spectacle.

Getting through Laufen Castle is the way to the Rhine Falls. Laufen Castle is a Swiss heritage site. As the Rhine falls gate, the castle offers visitors with multiple services, exhibitions, restaurants and more. From the castle, an elevator transports visitors downwards to the Rhine falls platforms.

Zurich Architecture_Linesmag_2
Photo Courtesy:

Watching the running waters falling down those tops is mesmerizing, going right next to them is another story. If you are up for a little boat ride, they run through the river as if inside the falls.

The Rhine falls offers more activities along the scenery and the boat ride. One of which is the Adventure park on the Rhine falls northern bank. It is a rope park, gliding from one tree to the other, and overlooking the falls.

Zurich Architecture_Linesmag1
Photo Courtesy: Nada Abdrabou

Lake Zurich

A boat from the city to Lake Zürich takes us southeast into a relaxed trip. All around the lake are cycling and hiking routes, restaurants, and cafes, all served by boats. Overlooking the dock and the Swiss peaks, walking along Lake Zürich or dining on its shores is one of a kind experience.

Whether it the renovation, extension, or re-use of historic buildings and districts, Zurich architecture seems to have found a culturally driven way into modernism. Even its brand new innovations align harmoniously with its heritage. Whenever you find yourself in Zurich, go around the city and dig into these destinations, you might find your own little secrets.

Finally, Zurich Architecture is truly one of a kind. However, we also encourage you to visit new destinations with our city guides in mind. You can check, Barcelona Architecture City Guide for instance and tell us what do you think!

Follow Linesmag on FacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn to catch up on our recent posts or sign up for our Newsletter for free.

Nada is an Architect & Urban Researcher. Based in Hurghada, and inspired by its sea & vivid mountains. She seeks local innovations along the Egyptian Red Sea coast, since our communities are the best designer for their own contexts.